At the Little Table

"I was promised a feast," the Insatiable Devourer snarled in protest as one claw pierced a tiny square tower of bread and meat, dragging it around his plate. "How dare that snake offer this... this pathetic mockery of a meal!"   The Devourer glanced over to the big table at the other end of the hall, certain he'd been cheated once again. However, the ancient oval surface was bare. Deities crowded around, deep in debate. It seemed this gathering was in fact a Council.   Resigned to his disappointment, he scooped up a handful of the petite sandwiches and indelicately shoved them in his maw. Several missed, landing on the floor. The Insatiable Devourer was a deity so feared by his followers that they embodied him as a monstrous upright hyena featuring, most notably, an enormous jaw of jutting fangs and oversized claws on brawny limbs. He was an unmatched hunter, but utterly ineffectual at eating anything delicate. And eating was the only thing he cared to do.   After far too much time had passed for the Devourer's complaint to be relevant, a large black cat sitting across the little table uncurled herself, opened one bright turquoise eye, yawned intolerably slowly, and offered her response. "Oh, the Deceiver isn’t here. He somehow wormed out of this Council."   The Great Whiskered One was a cat. That was never a point of question. Fickle and lazy, she had a soft spot for the underdogs. Despite that obvious flaw, the Devourer liked her well enough, though he did wish he understood her better. The Realm of Dreams she ruled; that was beyond his grasp. He didn't even sleep. It would take away from his gorging time. The Devourer dug into his infinite shallowness to ask her something meaningful. Her visit to the little table provided a rare opportunity.... but the topic of food was all he unearthed.   "If not the snake, then what vile spirit is to blame for this... this trifle?" The Devourer grunted, gesturing broadly and flinging bits of mangled bread over a decorative vegetable platter.   "Oh, a trifle! That's what I forgot. But you tried my petit fours! What did you think?!" A cheery voice responded as another pyramid of tiny sandwiches assembled themselves on the table. "People simply can’t stop talking about this one."   As the last words were spoken, they formed in the air, each character changing in a mishmash of languages. The Devourer wasn't much for writing, but he recognized the speaker.   Two dark bread squares appeared in mid-air holding together slivers of red meat and a black paste. A hand condensed from the floating words, holding the miniature sandwich delicately. The rest of Echoing Song, the god of rumors, appeared as her words faded. She wore a floor-length sleeveless evening gown in champagne, bias cut and open back, her sandy blond hair cut short in wavy curls, and just enough jewelry to be the right side of fashionable. Echo outdressed even the big table, save perhaps the Pale Maiden, who was in rare form today. Here, on the other side of the hall, standing beside the Devourer, who wore the bones of his prey as a codpiece, and Wiskers, who wore nothing...   "Rumor?! Why are you serving the food? If the snake can’t be bothered to entertain us, why not Bounty? He puts on the grandest of feasts." The Devourer took a bite of Echo's newest offering and immediately spit it all over the fourth member of their excluded gathering.   "What was that wretched flavor?!" The Devourer grumbled as he picked pieces of meat off Bounty's now soiled earth-tone robe and shoving them back in his toothy maw with a second wince. The thin, wispy-haired man didn't respond. Instead, he sat in his chair, arms crossed, rocking slightly and mumbling to himself.   Echo smiled. "Steamed goat on rye with anise seed and cinnamon spread. It's all the rage in the city."   The Great Whiskered One stirred again, reaching over to finishing cleaning off Bounty. "Oh, don’t trouble the poor soul, he’s not handling… you know."   "...offered a hand to the lichen..." Bounty muttered loud enough for the others to hear. "… said I wasn’t their type."   Echo chimed in, carelessly "You mean when he lost all those followers to-"   "Don’t say it-" Whiskers scolded, eyeing her tablemates.   The Insatiable Devourer held his tongue just long enough for the others to relax before a devilish grin exposed his hideous fangs "Progress"   Bounty hugs his knees, burying his face and anguish. "They said we'd get fair market value," he moaned.   "What did you have to go and do that for?!" Whiskers snapped, eyes aglow and claws out.   "I hear they're a bastard of a god." Echo's wispy words formed in the air around her and floated over the others.   "Total bastard." Whiskers responded reflexively.   Devourer's smile had yet to fade "Are they here?"   Putting a hand on his shoulder, Echo tried to soothe her troubled friend. "What about the swamps? You have a few followers left. Why don't you send them there? I’ve heard there are idyllic natural vistas-"   Bounty slowly looked up. His response was hesitant and mournful. "The swamps? My people tried the swamps. They became the food."   "Oh, yes. I remember them. Quite tasty." The Devourer jeered. Despite the miserable meal, he was enjoying this Council; a first really. With his claw, he freed several chunks of meat from a gelatenous golden blob jiggling atop a large silver platter. The taste was exactly the wrong combination of salty and sweet; utterly disgusting, but... it was food. He slowly licked himself.   "I know why Bounty is seated at the little table. And Devourer… that’s obvious," Whiskers looked over with disgust. "But Rumor, you have more followers than most-"   Echoing Song cut her off with a broad smile. "Oh, I’ve lost count. This new world has been spectacular for my ego." She patted Bounty on the shoulder again before busing herself with the quickly emptying serving plates. "I mean, the last few years were a bit of a slowdown, with the Ancients and all. Now with Fame out of the way, I’m back in business."   Whiskers gaped "Rumor, you do realize the entire conversation at the big table is about the Ancients. And you’ve known about them how long?"   The Insatiable Devourer let out a grisly laugh, along with several oysters.   "Of course, I’ve been telling them for years. You were *ahem* asleep. They don’t listen. They never listen." Echo replied, feigning disinterest. Then, with a coy glance, she tried to mirror the cat's sly grin. "So why did our betters kick you over here?"   The Great Whiskered One pondered the question for a moment, looking back to the big table with its unlikely gathering of deities and their raucous debate. "They claimed I was snoring," she protested. "Then my champion called me away for an emergency. He died again. He really needs to get over that. The Council didn’t much appreciate the interruption, so now I get to spend my time with you lovely spirits." Her energy spent, the black cat curled up on her chair, closed her bright turquoise eyes, and returned to the Realm of Dreams.   "Champions. The worst, right?!" Echo's words were sharp this time, piercing the air before fading.   "The worst." replied the Insatiable Devourer reflexively.   "I miss my champion." Bounty could manage only a sorrowful squeak.